Social Cohesion: My Faith, My Business

Cultural competence and understanding the other are key issues in building strong, effective workplaces with diversity among the workforce. Much understanding and trust are needed for all to accomplish their goals – giving of goods and services, return on investment of time, talents and resources, and satisfaction with the goals of the work enterprise. In this presentation, an account is given of the faith and work presentations given to industry leaders, HR Managers and workplace leaders.


As part of a special social cohesion project we partnered with City of Greater Shepparton and the Ethnic Council. The project included a GV Brain event with Anh Do, well known media personality and refugee. He is author of the book, “The Happiest Refugee”. The next event in the local Social Cohesion series was the Community Cooking Classes which followed on from the St Georges Road Food Festival. We then conducted a series of Lunchtime meetings focussed on Faith and the Workplace.

These were called My Business, My Faith

The Theme for these sessions was: A conversation about what your business can learn from understanding religion and faith

We conducted these sessions over lunch at several restaurants in Wyndham St and a breakfast meet at the Philippines House.

At these sessions we had speakers from different faiths speak about their faith and their work. These came from Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian faiths, with occasional input from other faiths. We also had civic and community leaders speak to issues of integration in the community and the values that drive our community participation.

We also learned the seeds to our social cohesion very much lay in the past: If we look to the first fleet and transportation, and the arrival of the first fleet at Sydney Cove in 1778,

  • The sailors on the vessel were Muslims. They came ashore and celebrated Ramadan;
  • Catholics were on board as prisoners. They were Gaelic speaking;
  • Anglicans were on board as military and prisoners. They celebrated the first Christian service;

  • The convict tradition was principally a tradition of religious tolerance; – work and the pub
  • Religion was principally seen as a guardian of moral values;

  • The environment and the extremities thereof (drought, bushfire, smallpox, etc) were great levellers and the cause of social cohesion
  • Religions quickly found that they could not depend on the state to provide the religious framework.

There is also a need to reformulate our history as Australians, and to include the history of all our ethnic minorities. We should move from an Anglo-Celtic history to a more representative history that tells the story – more appropriately – of who we are as a nation. In this area of Shepparton there were several waves of settlement from the United Kingdom and Europe. Our national story also needs to incorporate the Aboriginal dimension and not simply gloss over their history with a reference to their contribution to World War II in the Northern Territory. Reconciliation has been derailed and should be put back on the national agenda.

The scope of these presentations included:~ (among other things)

  • 1. Religion, generally, broadly … how many people follow your religion, where they are found. (briefly)
  • 2. Founder of your religion, what he did, and what the name of your scriptures are. (briefly)
  • 3. How your religion promotes peace, cooperation, understanding and harmony between peoples.
  • 4. How it is for you when you are at work. How your religion helps. How people at work understand your religion, the tolerance and acceptance your faith receives.
  • 5. The demands faith places upon the employee daily, and how that blends with their participation in the workplace.
  • 5. The path towards a harmonious and tolerant workplace.
  • 6. What values are important when we look to building tolerant, accepting workplaces?

This was followed by Q and A sessions which were welcomed and laid the foundations for extensive discussions around religion and the workplace. It became clear that there was a need to listen and to learn of special needs – Ramadan was cited as an example, and to forsee what accommodations might be facilitated. Many workplace staff attended along with Adult Migrant Education Students from GOTAFE.

In building community resilience it is important to understand both the needs of the individual along with their identity and belonging. This requires intercultural competence which encompasses key attitudes such as respect, openness and curiosity. This competence allows us assist the individual – and ourselves – to answer questions such as, “What are the cultural needs of this worker? Do their faith or religious beliefs make specific demands of them in the workplace? Do my employees need to understand their specific needs? Does the workplace need to create any special accommodation for the needs of its workers? How do I deal with workers who are fasting and faint on the assembly line? Is it reasonable to give them water? These questions – and more – were raised and responded to. The key issue understood by all was, inter-alia “How do we understand/deal with difference?” (cultural sensitivity).

Chris Parnell

Rev Chris Parnell is an Interfaith Minister and has multifaith experience extending over 25 years. He has been involved in religious and spiritual publishing for nearly 40 years. Chris has been engaged with interfaith matters since 2001, and has authored several national and international Interfaith websites. He has served as Industrial Chaplain, Prison Chaplain and is currently Executive Officer of the Shepparton Interfaith Network. This presentation addresses matters of social cohesion and interfaith, focussing on faith in the workplace.



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